The Memorial Cup, which crowns the best in major junior hockey, starts on May 14th and as a (dis)service to you folks out there; I'll do my best to breakdown the teams you may or may not know. As a note-- I'm a hack and probably won't get all the facts or anything like that straight, so bear with me.
The first participant is the host of this year's festivities, the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheaties were striving to be another WHL champ and host the event, but they were bounced in the WHL's Eastern Conference Final by the Calgary Hitmen in five games. That could motivation, coupled with rest and home-ice advantage, could make the Wheaties a very dangerous team.
Not only that, but the Wheat Kings were a solid team with 17 returnees from last season. They finished second overall in the WHL and lead the league in goals with 321, which was 45 more than the next highest team; the Medicine Hat Tigers. They also didn't skimp on the defense, as they gave up the fifth least amount of goals in the league of 22. They are a dynamic team up and down.
Staring with the offense, both Matt Calvert (Columbus, '08) and Brayden Schenn (Los Angeles, '09) will be focal points. Both Calvert and Schenn had 99 points on the regular season, while Schenn had three more points than Calvert (19 to 16) in the post-season. The biggest difference is the versitility of Calvert, who has 12 short-handed goals combined this season and can be used in any situation. However, Calvert does have a short-fuse, as he melted down during Game Five of the ECF against Calgary. The third part of that top like, Aaron Lewadniak (UFA), has kept up his pace from the regular season. One interesting point is the lack of scoring from Scott Glennie (Dallas, '09) (. While Glennie had 89 points in 66 games, his playoff stats haven't kept up the pace, as he only has 10 points in 15 games. This time off could be a good reflection for Glennie to maybe get his scoring touch back.
Defensively, the top two pairing of Colby Robak (Florida, '08) and Alex Urborn (New Jersey, '09) were a combined +101 for the regular season and were both offensive threats, which showed how well rounded they are. The pick-up of Travis Hamonic (Islanders, '08) has given a jolt offensively and defensively for the Wheat Kings, though he only played 10 games in the regular season due to a shoulder injury in the World Juniors. Defense top to bottom has been solid, with only Mark Schneider being a minus for the corps in the playoffs.
In net, while they split the starts during the year, Jacob De Serres (UFA) has usurped Andrew Haynes (UFA) for the starting role in the playoffs. That said, neither have been too stellar. De Serres sports a 3.17 GAA and .897 save percentage in 12 games while Haynes has a 3.37 GAA and .880 save percentage in three games. For a tandem who produced 55 wins for the Wheat Kings, they haven't shown that they can steal a game in the post season, which could be a downfall for the Wheaties out of the rest of their squad.
The Wheat Kings will have a ton of pressure on them, especially since they are a pride of the Manitoba town. There was a lot of expectations and they did well in the season, decent in the playoffs-- but now is where it really is going to matter. They also want to keep the tradition of WHL host winning the Memorial Cup, as the WHL hosts have won the past two Memorial Cups they hosted (Kelowna and Vancouver), while a team from the WHL has won the last seven Memorial Cups a WHL has hosted. For a person based in Western Canada, here's hoping that trend can continue.